ONU campus

OHIO — On Monday, during a Statehouse news conference convened to discuss a mental health project, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency throughout Ohio related to the coronavirus outbreak. The announcement came on the heels of a reported three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. Another five are awaiting results of tests administered over the weekend.

“The state of emergency that I’ve declared in Ohio is a legal necessity that allows state departments and agencies to better coordinate in their response,” DeWine said on Monday. “This is certainly no ordinary time. It’s important for us to take aggressive action to protect Ohioans, and the actions that we take now will, in fact, save lives.”

Responding to DeWine’s pronouncement and heeding his call for aggressive action, a number of the state’s public and private institutions of higher education have announced the postponement of in-person classes, and a refocusing to online education. The Ohio State University, one of the nation’s most populous institutions, is one such. As of mid-day Wednesday, over a dozen other colleges and universities followed suit, including Ohio Northern University, which announced late Tuesday it would suspend all face-to-face classes — with the exception of lab session.

An unattributable letter addressed “To all members of the University community” posted on the university’s website March 10 states, “Early this afternoon, Gov. DeWine held a conference call with all Ohio college and university presidents, followed by a press conference later where he outlined the steps he advises organizations to take in light of the coronavirus. He specifically advised all higher education institutions in Ohio to move to remote learning for classes as soon as possible for a period of time. In addition, he asked that all large events, such as indoor sports and other performance events, be discontinued.

”Ohio Northern University has begun the transition to virtual instruction. Many faculty have already been working in preparation for this, and the campus will complete the transition by Monday, March 16. To facilitate this and allow faculty time to prepare their course materials, all academic classes are canceled on Friday, March 13.

“Starting on Monday, March 16, we are suspending all face-to-face instruction, with the exception of laboratory sessions for the remainder of the spring semester. Later this week, faculty will send their class rosters an email to let the students know how the course will be meeting in the future. Students engaging in clinical placements, internships and experiential outplacements will continue at this time and should follow the protocols of the facility. Students and faculty are encouraged to do what is best for their personal circumstances as we transition to this new form of instruction delivery.”

Additionally, the school announced other actions, including:

• The University has canceled all large gathering, indoor public events until Friday, April 17, 2020. This includes events such as Honors Day, Relay for Life, and many more that we will publicize.

• Ohio Northern is asking all University groups to suspend meetings for groups that include 20 or more participants, or these groups should meet in a virtual capacity when possible, including student organizations.

• Non-essential commercial travel (air, train, bus) for university business is suspended for all faculty and staff until April 17. Essential travel must be approved by the appropriate Vice President or Dean.

• All university-related student travel, including team competitions and travel to conferences, is suspended until April 17. Outdoor sporting competitions will continue at this time.

Although locally these same tactics have yet to play out in elementary and secondary schools, others — like the Athens City School District — are taking advantage of spring break scenarios and closing for two weeks, the established incubation period for the virus.

Not yet at that point, Ada Exempted Village Schools Superintendent Meri Skilliter said the district’s faculty, staff, and students are taking the necessary and proper precautions prescribed by the Ohio Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

“While no confirmed cases have been reported in Hardin County,” Skilliter wrote in an open letter posted on the school’s website and social media page, “the Ada School District is working closely with health officials and being especially careful to continue aggressive illness prevention habits (as we do during any flu season or outbreak), including disinfecting of surfaces, frequent hand washing or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers (when appropriate) with students and staff.”

Skilliter expanded on that in an interview on Wednesday.

“Weeks ago, we already started deep cleaning on a regularly basis because we had a good number of cases of flu, so we’re continuing with that,” she said. “Then we have our kids on a rotation for washing hands more regularly and watching to make sure they really do it.”

At the same time, Skilliter reports superintendents of the county’s school districts are, unsurprisingly, meeting and will continue to meet with representatives of the county’s health department. In addition, Skilliter says internal meetings with faculty and staff are ongoing and productive brainstorming sessions directed at what she called a likely what if.

“My guess, my gut says we’ll probably get shut down at some point, but we’re just following what the guidelines are,” she said. “If we get guidelines that we need to shut down, right now we’re preparing for that possibility so that we have a plan.”

There are prevention efforts that everyone can and should take to help prevent the spread of disease:

• Wash hands often, for at least 20 seconds

• Cough or sneeze in your sleeve or a tissue (then discard the tissue immediately)

• Stay home if you are sick. Do not go to school, work or other public places (stores, restaurants, etc.)

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth

• Call before you go. If you think you are ill, call your healthcare provider, urgent care or the emergency room before you go. This will help determine if you need to be seen and helps them prepare if you must see a healthcare provider.

The general public is still at low risk for COVID-19. There are, however, some populations that are at higher risk. This includes individuals over age 60 and people with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and heart or lung disease. It is recommended that persons with high risk should avoid crowds, wash hands often and keep hands away from the nose, mouth and eyes. Others can help protect the high risk individuals by limiting visits to long-term care facilities and to homes of family and friends with chronic health conditions.

The Ohio Department of Health has opened a call center for COVID-19 questions and concerns. The call center can be reached at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634). Updated information is also available at coronavirus.ohio.gov or cdc.gov.

(Editor’s Note: A complete transcript of Superintendent Skilliter’s announcement appears on Page 2.)